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An extraordinary series of 278 bound volumes

The series of 278 volumes with Dutch pamphlets is rightfully considered as one of the most exciting parts of the Fagel Collection. There is no doubt that the Fagels have bestowed on Dublin the greatest, most coherent collection of Dutch pamphlets anywhere outside the Low Countries. A substantial number of individual pamphlets seems to be unique, or very rare at least, but it is primarily the composition of the volumes that has attracted the interest of the scholarly community. The Fagel pamphlets were collected, organised, bound and used by members of a family that was at the heart of Dutch politics for large parts of the seventeenth and eighteenth century. As such, they give a unique insight in the rationale of early modern government information management.

Researchers have stressed the importance of the collection for some time. Remarkably, there has never been real consensus about the total number of pamphlets in the collection. Estimates range from anywhere between five and ten thousand, depending on what was considered a pamphlet and what librarians recorded as individual items over the course of the centuries. Smaller publications such as broadsheets have been ignored in the past, variant typesetting were not always recognized. Some more recent cataloguing projects limited the scope, based on time, geography, language or subject of the pamphlets. The current project Unlocking the Fagel Collection is the first time that every item in the collection will be catalogued.

Pamphlets and Collections

Pamphlets are topical documents about current affairs in the field of politics, religion, and all other areas of current interest. A number of large pamphlets collections have been preserved in the Netherlands. The largest and best known collection is the ‘Knuttel collection’ in the KB, National Library of the Netherlands. The core of this collection was assembled by the 18th century lawyer Joan Duncan. After his death in 1753 the collection of some 20,000 items was donated to the Stadtholder as ‘Bibliotheca Duncaniana’ and subsequently became part of the KB after 1798.

The Fagel pamphlets are less in numbers, but make up for that in composition. The bindings with pamphlets of the ‘Bibliotheca Duncaniana’ were taken apart and reorganised by W.P.C. Knuttel and his colleagues in the late nineteenth century, whereas the Fagel pamphlets are still bound in the same way as when they entered the library in 1802. Their coherence has been preserved, and for that reason, the composition of the bindings gives insight in the manner in which the Fagels organised information. There are volumes that hold the so-called ‘birth-certificates’ of the Dutch Republic, others have assorted pamphlets on natural phenomena, international treaties or local historical events.

Series and Bindings

The oldest pamphlets in the Fagel Collection date from the sixteenth century, not surprisingly from around the time of the early stages of the Dutch Revolt. There are at least five contemporary editions of the Plakkaat van Verlatinghe (Act of Abjuration) from 1581 in the collection. This is the de facto declaration of independence of the Dutch provinces from the allegiance to Philip II of Spain. The number of different editions that were printed not just in The Hague, but also in Dutch provincial towns, shows how quickly the news was dispersed over the country. We do not know whether the Fagels were genuinely interested in different states of this important text, even though textual differences were arguably meaningful for legal reasons. The reason that so many variations are present in the Fagel collection, may simply be found in the different (family) lines along which these pamphlets were passed down in the seventeenth and eighteenth century.

One of five 1581 editions of the Plakkaat van Verlatinghe in the Fagel Collection. Shelf mark: Fag.H.3.8:3

The pamphlets were bound at various stages during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Some of the older parts of the collection can possibly be traced back to Gaspar Fagel, but there is evidence to suggest that many volumes were either bound or rebound in the 1730s at the time that François Fagel served as greffier. Most of these early eighteenth century volumes are bound in plain vellum. Later eighteenth century pamphlets in the collection are bound in half leather, some of which were in fact made in Dublin after 1802.

Fagel Pamphlet Research

The Fagel pamphlets which are listed as lot 7593 in the Fagel auction catalogue were high on the list of Dutch researcher Dr Ernst Braches when he came to Trinity College Dublin in 1962. Braches focused specifically on the pamphlets that were not found in the existing Dutch pamphlet catalogues such as Knuttel, Tiele, Van der Wulp and others. He made bibliographical records for approximately 1700 pamphlets, which are now preserved as part of an archive that is kept at the KB. Braches estimated that approximately five percent of all pamphlets was not known elsewhere, but he could not take in account all the different type settings of the pamphlets that we know today.

Half a century later, Jaap Harskamp considered the added value of the Fagel pamphlets for the Short-Title Catalogue, Netherlands (STCN). Harskamp concluded that the fingerprint technique of the STCN is particularly useful to distinguish between impressions. Better ways to distinguish between editions, impressions and states inevitably leads to the identification of more unique items. According to Harskamp, up to ten or twelve percent of the Fagel pamphlets were not yet present in the national bibliography of the Netherlands. The first Fagel pamphlets were added to the STCN in 2012, but at the time broadsheets were not included.

Members of the St Andrews Book group have been coming back and forth to Dublin for the best part of twenty years, drawn in each case by the fabulous riches of the Fagel collection. At first they worked exclusively on French materials. From 2016 onward the extension of the Universal Short Title Catalogue into the seventeenth century, has inspired an effort to catalogue the sixteenth and seventeenth century Dutch pamphlets in the collection. The scope of the USTC means the eighteenth century pamphlets were excluded, as well as volumes with pamphlets that were not part of the series of 278 volumes.

Ten Thousand Pamphlets or more?

Lot 7593 of the 1802 auction catalogue famously mentions 10,000 items, but in reality the 278 volumes constitute far less pamphlets. Interestingly, the next three lots in the catalogue 7594, 7595 and 7596 are rarely mentioned, but also account for several thousand items. The appendix lists even more ‘parcels of tracts, historical, political, and miscellaneous’ in folio, quarto and octavo (lots 9842, 9843 and 9844). This can be further expanded with various composite bindings that hold thousands of state publications and other ephemera. It is up to individual researchers to decide if these should indeed be labelled as ‘pamphlets’ or other sorts of publications. It is questionable that the Fagels ever made such a distinction between different types of information.

Detail of an annotated copy of the 1802 Auction Catalogue, lots 7593-7596

The work on these series is ongoing, below is an overview of the series that have been (partially) catalogued so far.

Fag.H.1-3 (243 volumes | mostly half vellum with marbled paper over boards | auction catalogue lot 7593). These volumes are the notorious lot 7593 in the auction catalogue. Certainly less than the 10,000 mentioned by Paterson, estimated around 5,500. The composition of the volumes suggest that at least a part of them can be connected to Gaspar Fagel. There is indication that part of the volumes were bound in the 1730s at the instigation of François Fagel.

Fagel Pamphlets from the series Fag.H.1-3

Fag. II.1.1-28 (28 volumes)

Fag. II.1.29-37 (9 volumes)

Fag. H.9.1-12 (12 volumes | auction catalogue lot 7595 | all catalogued). Twelve volumes with a total of 247 historical and political tracts from the 1740s until the 1780s. This roughly covers the period from the orangist revolution, the restoration of the stadtholderate and the appointment of William IV in 1747 until the political and economical crisis of the 1780s and the Patriot Revolution of 1785-1787.

Fag. H.9.19-32 (14 volumes | vellum wrappers with green silk ribbons | auction catalogue lot 7611). These volumes were listed in the 1872 catalogue as ‘A collection of ordinances, proclamations… relating to Holland, in the Dutch language, dated 1700-1728. 14 vols’. They comprise just under 5000 items that are now catalogued separately, such as Recept tegens de dolligheyt van menschen from 1724. Interesting are the composition of the volumes, the manuscript indices, and a handwritten note in one of them ‘Aen het huijs van de heer griffier Fagel’ [To the house of greffier Fagel].

Detail of Fag.H.9.25 with a ms note [send this] to the house of greffier Fagel


Jaap Harskamp, ‘Fagel, pamphlets and the STCN file’, in: Timothy R. Jackson (ed.) Frozen in Time: The Fagel Collection in the Library of Trinity College Dublin (Dublin: The Lilliput Press, 2016).

Andrew Pettegree & Arthur der Weduwen, ‘The library as a weapon of state: the pamphlet collection of Gaspar Fagel in Trinity College, Dublin’, in: E. Boran (ed.), Book collecting in Ireland and Britain, 1650–1850 (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2018).

W.P.C. Knuttel. Catalogus van de pamfletten-verzameling berustende in de Koninklijke Bibliotheek. Reprint, with handwritten corrections, additions and variants. With an introductory essay and instructions for the user by Dr H. van der Hoeven. Utrecht 1978 (reprint of the original version of 1889-1920).

J.A. Gruys. ‘De Bibliotheca Duncaniana’. In: Verzamelaars en verzamelingen. Koninklijke Bibliotheek 1798-1998. Zwolle 1998, p. 30-33.

August 2021 | Alex Alsemgeest